Malawians are a resilient people and 2016 is one of those years when resilience best describes the Malawian response to countless challenges through the year; food security challenges that threatened almost half of the population, unprecedented electricity load shedding, unparalleled water shortage and a bad tobacco selling season. Yet the country survived. It has certainly been the way we survived 2016 and it will be the manner in which we will confront the year ahead.
It was also the year where insults, invectives and intimidation became the new norm in our political landscape and the language of our leaders. Honourable Members of Parliament behaving dishonourably by threatening not to pass the budget unless their loans were subsidised by the taxes of their constituents. Threats and the inability to listen to others, particularly dissonant or alternative voices as well as utter disregard for facts were a normal ingredient in the recipe that was served to the unsuspecting Malawians who sometimes were completely shocked by the lack of respectful conversation and disagreements among our political leadership on both sides of the political divide. 2016 was indeed a bad year in many respects. It was annus horribilis!
The word corruption was on everyone’s mind. The year recorded a number of convictions in the infamous Cashgate. Despite such progress, rumours of corruption and accusations of corruption and theft of public resources decorated the front pages of our newspapers. In some cases, it led to a public dog fight between some otherwise respectable leaders of critical institutions. These stories have continued to the end of the year with the latest being the Admarc maize procurement deal and suggestions of corrupt practices in the deal.
Whatever the truth is, this issue of Admarc has left a very bad picture in many people’s minds. What the stories have done is to reinforce the image that those in authority are doing little or deliberately doing nothing to deal with the perceived rampant corruption. Those in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) should be worried that the image of the DPP as a party established to fight underdevelopment, economic and social injustice, inequality, and corruption, theft of public funds and abuse of power is slowly being battered. It is perhaps time for the party to go back to its manifesto and recall the statements made during the 2014 campaign. The manifesto that the people of Malawi were presented with clearly states that “the Party is established to serve people. DPP does not believe in empty rhetoric. The party does not believe in cheap propaganda which takes advantage of the people and turn them into puppets for gaining political mileage. DPP believes that leaders must lead by example and not by words. We strongly believe that people come first”. This is what the party should do in 2017! Simple.
Corruption is real in Malawi and the nature of corruption is that it is always perceived as being linked to the government in power at any one time. Not a few months ago, the President himself agreed that corruption is the evil that needs to be dealt with if this country is to develop. It is clear that the core members of the DPP are likely to vote for it regardless but the road to convince the undecided is long and bumpy and not subject to easy generalisations. There is need to move fast in dealing with this evil.
The unfortunate thing in Malawi is that we have been led to believe that the President has too much power. The majority of the people in Malawi still share that notion including the DPP as evidenced by its pledge in 2014 that the DPP government will reduce concentration of power in the presidency. The conclusion arising from this notion is that any failure by any arm of the government is synonymous to the failure of the presidency. It will not be wrong to assume that one of the main issues that will define the legacy of the DPP government in 2017 will be linked to its perceived ability or inability to deal with corruption or the perception of corruption.
As the country welcomes 2017, the DPP would do itself a great service by taking a hard look at the facts and realise that a party cannot be assumed to be strong just because it says so or because other people repeat its view. There comes a time when narratives no longer matter but the facts on the ground and people’s experiences.
It is my hope that 2017 will be a year of hope. The year in which Malawians will gather the moral courage to do what is right and exercise their rights. The next 12 months provide the Malawi citizenry with the chance to be proud to call ourselves Malawians. Each of us can be a bearer of hope, accountable and responsible for what takes place in this beautiful land of the lake. It will be a travesty if we abdicate our role and mortgage this country to our leaders alone. There is no need to leave the responsibility to the government alone. Goodbye 2016, annus horribilis!
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